THREE SISTERS in a Modern Version at Berkeley Rep

(l to r) Natalia Payne, Heather Wood and Wendy Rich Stetson play the title characters in Sarah Ruhl’s new adaptation of Three Sisters at Berkeley Rep. Photo courtesy of

THREE SISTERS: Drama. By Anton Chekhov. New version by Sarah Ruhl. Directed by Les Waters. Berkeley Repertory's Thrust Stage, 2025 Addison St., Berkeley. Three hours. 510-647-2949 begin_of_the_skype_highlighting 510-647-2949 end_of_the_skype_highlighting or April 14 - May 22.

THREE SISTERS in a Modern Version at Berkeley Rep

Making old passé plays relevant in today’s culture of instant communications including Facebook and Twitter is a daunting task. If the attempt is made, one might wonder “For what purpose?” You still might wonder even after seeing Berkeley Rep’s brilliant re-incarnation of the over-long (three hours) dreary Anton Chekhov Three Sisters. However if you miss this production you will be depriving yourself of witnessing a theatrical gem.

Just as the women in Sarah Ruhl’s award winning play The Next Room:or The Vibrator Play, the three sisters of Chekhov’s 1901 drama are trapped in a world dominated by men. In The Next Room the women are able to escape their social imprisonment but not so in Three Sisters. In this version, Ruhl uses modern language but the marvelous Annie Smart sets and Ilona Somogyi’s magnificent period costumes evoke 1900 Russia and they alone are worth the price of admission.

The setting of the play is a relatively rural Russia with the characters desiring a return to their idealized concept of the social and intellectual life in Moscow. Olga the older sister (Wendy Rich Stetson) is the spinster matriarch in their parentless home being protective of the elderly nurse Anfisa (Barbara Oliver) as well as her siblings. The embittered middle sister Masha (Natalia Payne) is in a loveless marriage to the pedantic Kulygin (Keith Reddin). She has a clandestine affair that is doomed to failure with idealistic army officer Vershinin (Bruce McKenzie). Vivacious Irina (Heather Wood), who is celebrating her 18 birthday when the play begins is the object of devotion by Tuzenbach (Thomas Jay Ryan) and the lust of Solyony (Sam Breslin Wright) that eventually leads to a duel in the final act.

When devious Natasha (Emily Kitchens) marries the intellectual, ineffectual brother Andrei (Alex Moggridge) she takes control of the household gradually forcing the sisters out. James Carpenter makes the most of his role as the aging drunken doctor Chebutykin and even performs a dance.

All the actors are superb with each adding depth and nuance to Chekhov’s characters being ably supported by the lesser cast members. Originally written in four acts, the running time of three hours has two five minute intermissions between act one and two and act three and four with the usual 15 minute interval. This is an advantage as it allows the audience to digest the action and motivation staving away what could be a boring evening. Les Waters’ direction is exemplary using the three level set to get advantage.

Kedar K. Adour, MD

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